Season 11 begins with intrigue for Pujols
Albert Pujols is about to begin what could be his final season
with the St. Louis Cardinals. The team expects a rousing welcome
for the three-time NL MVP, even though he’s playing hardball off
Year 11 for Pujols, all with the Cardinals, begins on Thursday
against the San Diego Padres. His first decade with the franchise
is among the best in major league history, with a solid string of
.300 averages with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
Pujols cut off contract negotiations until the offseason on the
first day of spring training, and appears headed for free agency
for the first time. General manager John Mozeliak wouldn’t reveal
the Cardinals’ best offer from mid-February but said it would be
tough to top whenever Pujols is amenable to discussing a new deal
”We put our best foot forward at the time,” Mozeliak said. ”I
don’t envision that drastically changing.”
Still, manager Tony La Russa was sure there’d be only cheering,
and lots of it, when the 31-year-old Pujols is introduced during
the players’ annual opening-day parade lap around the warning track
aboard flatbed trucks.
”I wish I was as certain about us playing in October as I am
about the reception that Albert’s going to get,” La Russa said.
”I mean, his 10 years here, I think the fans are going to be
louder than ever for him.”
Positive feedback from the stands can only help. Mozeliak
anticipates fans will appreciate what Pujols has already done.
”I don’t know if there’s any gaming involved in that, I just
think it’ll be genuine,” Mozeliak said. ”Here’s what we know:
He’s part of the Cardinals for 2011.”
Neither team has its projected opening day starter. Chris
Carpenter gets the nod for the Cardinals after 20-game winner Adam
Wainwright was sidelined by reconstructive elbow surgery early in
spring training and the Padres will go with Tim Stauffer in place
of Mat Latos, who’s beginning the year on the 15-day disabled list
with a shoulder injury.
Latos, who was 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA last season, was scheduled
to progress from playing catch Wednesday to a side session on
Thursday. The team expects Latos to pitch in April.
”We have an idea of where this is headed and it’s positive,”
manager Bud Black said. ”We want him to pass all these daily
mini-tests that he’s taking but if he comes out of these fine like
we think he will you could see him in hopefully a couple weeks.
”We’ve got to make sure when he gets in a competitive situation
that we don’t have any sort of recurrence of what happened in his
last competitive situation.”
Stauffer lost out to Latos for the final rotation spot last
year, but emerged with a 6-5 record and 1.85 ERA and made seven
starts overall. The 35-year-old Carpenter makes his fifth opening
day start for St. Louis after going 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA last
”I still get butterflies every day,” Carpenter said. ”When I
go out there and pitch, it’s an important day. You can still take
it in and enjoy it, but there comes a time you’ve got to let it
”The older you get, the more ways you have of dealing with
Outfielder Ryan Ludwick begins his first full season with the
Padres after coming from St. Louis on the trade deadline. Ludwick
batted only .211 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 209 at-bats with
San Diego, and said he’s a lot more comfortable now.
”It’s definitely different this year,” Ludwick said. ”I can
start building time here. This is a special place, too.”
Jim Edmonds, who signed a minor league contract with the
Cardinals this winter but then abandoned comeback plans and retired
before reporting due to a foot injury, will throw out the first
pitch. Governor Jay Nixon is scheduled to be among those